2017’s first entry into LaGrange College’s First Word column of exemplary writing is Kirstie Neal’s “ProcrastiNation and College Writing.” It was nominated by Dr. Patti Marchesi.
Dr. Marchesi writes:
“Kirstie’s essay was written in response to a prompt asking students to consider both the importance of the writing process and the drawbacks of procrastination. In addition to the student’s own experiences and insights, the essay is noteworthy because of the clear way in which it is written, as well as the attention it gives to the different stages of writing.”
ProcrastiNation and College Writing
by Kirstie Neal
One thing that I have learned in my short time as a freshman is that high school came nowhere close to preparing me for what I’d have to face in my first month of college. Every writing class I have ever taken before drilled a standardized version of writing into my mind, and gave me a fifty-minute deadline to get through all the steps. As you can probably imagine, this process did not help when writing college papers. I have recently learned that the writing process consists of five basic steps: generating, writing, strengthening, polishing and proofreading (Isreal, Stien, and Washington 38). Lack of writing ability, ultimately, comes not from lack of talent but from not spending enough time developing and using the writing process. It is procrastination that prevents us from fully practicing the necessary writing steps, and that causes us to produce unoriginal, uninspiring writing.
One of the hardest and most important parts of the writing process is brainstorming. Procrastination makes us to hurry through or even skip this step. Coming up with a good argument to write about is difficult, and it’s tempting to take the easy way out and write about something boring and unimaginative. The purpose of writing, however, is to grab readers’ attention and persuade them of something. It’s important to be original, to find a suitable writing voice, and to offer something beyond the information we can find through a google search. Essay writing is a tough sport, indeed: it takes long practice hours, fatigue, and no guaranteed wins.
The first step of the process — generating ideas — does not have to be boring. Here’s my advice: one of the best ways to generate ideas is to relate the arrangement to something that you like to do. For example, if you love using your computer, use it to research the topic and get ideas from there. Maybe you like listing things out; lists could also be an efficient way to provoke thought. Individuality in writing is key because you cannot tug at someone’s heart strings with a bland and boring paper. Have you ever listened to a speech or essay that moved you and provoked you to act on the subject, such as Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”? Those famous words certainly weren’t written during a three a.m. coffee-induced panic the day before.
Then there’s the dreaded thesis statement, another crucial step in the process. This is something that was never enforced in my high school. I knew what a thesis was, but my teachers never expected me to develop one as rigorously as I have had to do in college. A thesis statement is a single sentence that introduces your idea to the reader (Israel, Stien, and Washington 42). Writing a thesis can be difficult because you must make an arguable point without making an obvious statement. A well-developed thesis strengthens a paper because it provides a focus for all your paragraphs. This paper, for example, is about procrastination in the writing process, so it should come as no surprise that I’m about to say this: Procrastination affects how well-composed your thesis statement is (or even if you have one). Procrastinators tend to wander off topic and forget the point they were trying to make. Professors who have to read all of these students’ essays really would probably prefer not to read unclear thesis statements, and would probably really prefer not to read the kind of stream of consciousness that happens when writers stray off topic and forget the purpose of the essay. Fellow students: Don’t torture your professors! Take the time to develop a thesis statement that effectively helps you stay on topic.
What I’ve realized is that most of us don’t think about the work it requires to craft a paper, and assume that it’s ok for our first attempt to be our final draft. According to Megan McArdle’s “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators,” most people only ever see the final draft of a work, such as a book, and so never take into consideration how much work it took to write it. Most people also think that they must keep moving once they finish a step, whereas it’s perfectly fine to revisit a step several times. It can also be beneficial to jump from step to step. You don’t have to write your paper in order. Write your conclusion first and work backwards — whatever works for you. Don’t be afraid to try new things when writing. Also, reading your paper out loud after you’ve finished helps you catch mistakes that spell check might not notice. Remember, procrastination makes constructing papers in this manner difficult because there isn’t enough time to revisit and improve any of the work you’ve already done. Revise extensively, and perfect your work as you go: Revision takes endurance, but will ultimately become a useful habit in your academic life.
Because the purpose of writing is to convince someone of something, researching is an important part of the writing process. Logical facts and reasoning strengthen your argument, as do detailed examples. Not surprisingly, procrastination leaves no time for research or opportunity to incorporate it into your paper. It also often prevents you from carefully acknowledging the other side of the argument and conveying your understandings of positions you might not agree with. Yet research that acknowledges the counterargument shows that you can prove your argument while still being aware of other options. Researching can be difficult in today’s society because people can write whatever they want on the internet, and it can be tedious work to find out what’s factual and what’s opinion. More than ever before, you should make time to investigate the legitimacy of your sources.
If you write in a hurry, you risk plagiarism, an offense even worse than lack of originality. Incorrectly paraphrasing is where people tend to get into trouble when they leave papers until the last minute. Just replacing a source’s original words with synonyms constitutes plagiarism, especially if the sentence structure is the same. Sentences with three or more words from the original can also be considered plagiarized. Last-minute writing can make copying (or half-copying) from the internet seem tempting, but ultimately plagiarism is unethical and can have dire consequences in your academic career. The only way to fully prevent it is 1) to understand it, and 2) to allow yourself ample time to work on paraphrasing in an acceptable way.
Ultimately, the key to writing is developing a system that works for you. Maybe you like to research all your information before you develop your thesis, and if that is what works for you, go for it. I’ve found that allowing myself plenty of time to finish and revisit makes the writing process much more enjoyable and less stressful. It’s true: writing can be fun if you engage with the process and find your groove. Once you’ve found it, practice it. The more you do it, the stronger those writing muscles will get.
McArdle, Megan. “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” The Atlantic, 12 Feb. 2014, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/why-writers-are-the-worst- procrastinators/283773/. Accessed September 2016.
Israel, Deborah, Wayne Stien, and PamWashington, editors. Fresh Takes: Explorations in Reading and Writing. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008.
Roberts, Paul. “How to Say Nothing in 500 Words.” Fresh Takes, edited by Deborah Israel, Wayne Stien, and Pam Washington, McGraw Hill, 2008, pp. 195-202.
LaGrange College and Sustainability
by Caleb Brown
Originally founded in 1831 as a private female college, LaGrange College has changed in many ways over the years. Now, red brick buildings with ornate columns stand adjacent to the Frank and Laura Lewis Library, the only Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified building in Troup County. Our library represents one of the newer trends on the campus: a move toward environmental sustainability. Since its beginnings in the year 2000, the sustainability initiative has made great strides. There are still areas, of course, that could use improvement.
LaGrange College is located on a campus of exquisite beauty. The spreading bows of oaks shade plazas and pathways, while beautiful lawns and flower gardens paint a beautiful backdrop to this academic institution. But the beauty of the landscape goes beyond what first meets the eye, for the maintenance of the campus landscaping is done in ways that are sustainably responsible. A recent interview with Mr. Michael Coniglio, the director for the Physical Plant and the person who oversees the maintenance, grounds care, and custodial departments of the college, has provided me with valuable insights into the workings of the campus and the progress toward environmental sustainability. Whenever a tree has to be cut, for example, 10 to 12 more are planted. Cut trees are chipped and then used as mulch in the flower beds, adding nutrients back into the soil and controlling moisture, which reduces the need for irrigation. Wood chips are also a major part of campus composting. They, along with leaves and grass clippings, are composted to provide natural and nutrient-filled earth.
According to Mr. Coniglio, one of the college’s strong points in terms of campus sustainability is resource and energy conservation. For example, the college is working to reduce the amount of water used. In 2011, the college used 21, 410 cubic feet of water. By 2014, that number had dropped to only 7,364 cubic feet. In the Callaway Science Building and surrounding area alone, the amount of water used went from 3,635 to 145 cubic feet of water between 2011 and 2014. The primary reason for this drop was the monitoring of utilities by placing diffusers on shower heads and foist nozzles, and by installing toilets that use less water. Additionally, the water used by sprinklers is monitored. Rain sensors compensate water levels so water is not needlessly used.
In terms of energy consumption, the college is preserving energy through motion sensors in campus lighting. In addition, every time a conventional light bulb goes dead, it is replaced with an LED bulb. Not only do these bulbs conserve energy, but they also have a much longer lifespan, lowering purchase frequency, inventory space, and stock supply. The old West Side School, which has been renovated to house the Nursing and Music programs, is also completely outfitted with LED lights and motion sensors. It’s possible that the new science building will use LED lights as well (Coniglio).
Since Mr. Coniglio took directorship of the Physical Plant in 2012, the college has saved $500,000 in utilities. Electricity is the main energy source for the college, while water is also a necessary commodity. By carefully controlling and monitoring these resources, amazing progress has been made in improving environmental sustainability and cutting cost. It is therefore not surprising that Mr. Coniglio sees this as the strong point of our campus’ sustainability—I do as well.
Sadly, the sustainability of LaGrange College still has its weak points. Student effort and participation has been, traditionally, weak. Mr. Coniglio likened it to the ebb and flow of a tide. Sometimes it is high, flooding the campus with its effects, and other times it seems to simply dry away. In a conversation with Dr. Sarah Beth Mallory, an early sustainability proponent, she expressed some of the same concerns. In years gone by, she told me, the interest was campus-wide and included people from many different departments and roles, all of whom were coming together to create a sustainable community. Like Mr. Coniglio, she sees the need for a more active role on the part of students. In her current involvement with Global Engagement, she is working to promote some of the same principles.
According to Dr. Mallory, sustainability is, in many ways, like a web reaching out to include many different aspects of a community. We must see ourselves as citizens of the world. If we are treating our fellow human beings as we would like to be treated, we will not be led to exploit others and the resources that we should preserve and share. A vital part of campus sustainability is our worldview, and our awareness of how we treat others and their environments. In a way, this is a new application of the Golden Rule that lies at the heart of the college’s Methodist roots.
The concept of environmental sustainability is finding expression in many different areas of the campus. But as both Mr. Coniglio and Dr. Mallory expressed, one of the most important aspects is still missing: the involvement and action of each one of us. So take a look around you and find an area where you can make a difference. Next time you walk out of a room, remember to turn off the lights and join all the others who are doing what they can to make this campus a more sustainable place.
Coniglio, Michael. Personal Interview. 26 October 2015.
Mallory, Dr. Sara Beth. Personal Interview. 26 October 2015.
Response to Ethical Principles
by Lasha Banks
All of my life I have been black and all of my life I have been a woman; never was I afforded the joys of girlhood. This knowledge, omnipresent and inescapable, colors my actions, perspective, experiences, words, and voice in a way that is intricate and inextricable–irrevocable even. This omnipresent knowledge of what I am, how I appear and the experiences it afforded me means I cannot safely nor happily operate under the tenets of man that favor the success, happiness, welfare, and progeny of the majority. None of the ethical principles explored in class can apply to my life because they would challenge not only my ability to thrive and flourish within society but would put me in danger of forfeiting my life in the current state of American society. What could remedy this danger is to add a heavy dose of self-interest to the principles–under this thinking the community principle would be the ideal ethical lens to examine my choices and values through.
As a minority my representation in the media as a complex individual is oftentimes completely absent or made to fit into a one-trick pony stereotype that capitalizes and makes a commodity of my culture. As a result of this same absence, in my case the aim of the Golden Rule becomes skewed; instead of treating me in the same manner someone would want to be treated, it is oftentimes assumed that I am a walking stereotype. This stereotype of me based on my physical appearance is so well known through media representation that individuals assume they know how to treat me and that I would not want to be treated the way the Golden Rule would dictate they treat me. In this manner I am placed into a box that limits both the growth potential and emotional depth of potential friendships.
With this hurdle of misrepresentation and disillusioned individuals who often do not mean harm, the Relationships ethical principle also presents a problem for me. This principle that says to make decisions keeping in mind their ability to strengthen and weaken your relationships backs me into a corner where I am in a sense obligated to prod and pull myself to fit the box of the disillusioned, for the sake of a relationship that actively does me minimal harm. The issue with this ethical principle in my case is being inauthentic to myself and, consequently, stifling my growth as a genuine person. In sacrificing my individuality and identity to wear the identity prescribed to me to make another person comfortable, I certainly do not see this ethical principle applying to my minority lifestyle in a healthy manner.
The greatest good argument is based in quantitative value, which is why it is more often referred to as the majority rule. In this ethical principle, as we discussed in class, the hope is that someone will sacrifice in the end, maybe at the final moments. If someone is sacrificing, that someone is missing out on whatever ideal of success one intended to gain and are, therefore, a loser. In majority rule, the majority rules and the minority simply live with their losses–I am a minority within a minority in the American societal system. As a black woman in this republican democracy, my vote counts as much as any other. However, in situations where there is no regulated vote, where the ballot goes through the hands of the majority on the way to be counted, my minority vote means nothing. I will always be on the losing side as my experiences as a minority often provide a perspective few can identify with.
The ethical principle of community says to take on the values and principles of your neighbors and to govern yourself in line with these principles to foster healthy relationships as a community member. If my community is a group of individuals who are prejudiced and racist toward me, but do not actively recognize their actions nor motivations as such, then it is not difficult to see why this ethical principle is near fatal. These individuals remain unaware of the prejudice and racism within their actions because they are well-indoctrinated into a system where they do not see the disparities of people unlike them. This supposed community through their actions and this unawareness reinforce a system of privilege and disparity founded on racist principles that benefit them. I am un-afforded the luxury of that ignorance/unawareness during my course of navigating this flawed system daily–this supposed community would likely not even see the system as flawed due to their benefits. If I were to take the principle of community and apply it in this case, I would no doubt be at an insurmountable and self-inflicted disadvantage.
My status in society coupled with my experiences within the same society afford me a unique perspective on the follies, missteps, and disregard of men with the best of intentions. I believe these ethical principles were established and spread internationally with the best of intentions, but the blatant disadvantage at which nearly all of these ethical principles place the minorities makes clear to me that the providers and supporters of this propaganda were quite likely in positions of power and well respected within their positions of privilege and majority.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern: Unravelling Reality
by Erin Missroon
The prime objective of people operating under a modern play, directors, actors, and crews, is to immerse the audience so thoroughly in the play that the reality of the plot convinces beyond a reasonable doubt, at least until the curtain falls. The creation of this reality pivots on fixated, unspoken rules, rules the audience intuits before they are seated—rules extended from their own consciousness of real life. Plays rely on the audience’s assumption of a past, present, and future for every character, the notion of free will granted to the characters, and the continuation of action and the play’s reality beyond the edges of the stage. Postmodernists seek to break the silence of these rules by breaking the rules themselves and perhaps in turn break an audience’s perspective of reality. They deny the constant presence of logic and order and therefore dispute humanity’s ability to control its own outcome; objective truth can never be obtained because reality is inconsistent and our perspective is subject to these inconsistencies (Duignan). In short, “there is no such thing as Truth”. Playwright Tom Stoppard employs postmodern anti-rules to shape his anti-play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which works counter-clockwise to Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern elaborates on two obscure, interchangeable characters of Hamlet whom are used as vague, disposable devices to further the plot. The anti-play considers the consciousness of these beings and the shape of their reality once the suppositions held by modern play-watchers are stripped away.
Although most often considered in epics, the device of in media res is used in the majority of literature. The audience must always be introduced to some sort of plot before it starts to rise, and a satisfying play can achieve this both subtly and swiftly. As this is the starting point of plays, Stoppard’s anti-play divulges from this expectation immediately. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern opens with the characters on an empty stage playing a coin game in which the outcome is invariably heads. They have been playing it “for as long as [they] can remember” (Stoppard 15), and the only event that can be recalled before the game is that “a messenger arrived… nothing else happened” (18). Guildenstern openly voices a sense of “practically starting from scratch” (Stoppard 20), a feeling to which the audience can relate. The audience knows as much as what the characters know, which is no more backstory than what Hamlet allows Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. This is suggestive of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern being synthesized by an abstract hand and dropped down into a plane of reality like players in a video game. Opening an anti-play in such a fashion achieves two objectives: the seams connecting the play to the audience’s ideas of consciousness are immediately unraveled; and the postmodern theme of rejecting “a foundation of certainty on which to build the edifice of…knowledge” is integrated (Duignan).
After the initial action of a play is introduced, a flow is created by a succession of action. Time moves over an interval that allows the characters to live their lives as if every decision is of the current moment and wholly independently made. Of course, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern aren’t deciding and acting of their own accord because, just as they have acknowledged their artificial existence, they acknowledge a preconceived, utilitarian need to complete a task in a finite time span. Guildenstern surmises on this early and uneasily: “We have not been…picked out… simply to be abandoned… set loose to find our own way… We are entitled to some direction…I would have thought” (Stoppard 20). This distressing uncertainty remains unresolved up until the end as they continue to “act on scraps of information…sifting half-remembered directions that [they] can hardly separate from instinct” (Stoppard 102). Under the acknowledgement of a task being assigned is the understanding that an assigner exists somewhere who controls their fate. The audience is well aware that Shakespeare is this controller who uses them to further Hamlet’s character development and rising action, but they have to watch as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern attempt with futility to discern their roles in this seemingly ill-defined reality and whether they even want to partake in it. At one point Rosencrantz contemplates jumping overboard from a ship just to spite fate, which Guildenstern discourages by suggesting that maybe Rosencrantz is being counted on to do so anyway (Stoppard 108). Guildenstern recognizes that there is no way to win or lose because no one knows the rules. Postmodernism is directly constructed from the implications of this conundrum; while humans may convince themselves that they can intuit their “paths”, there is no visible reason or logic to think any one way is better than another other than the order we convince ourselves of.
Of course, the irony of Tom Stoppard’s suspended-reality anti-play, and postmodernism as a whole, is that it reflects humans’ experiences of existence more than “realistic” plays. By watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, we find we can relate to two characters on a stage with no concrete concept of what comes before or after, no way of knowing even up to the end if the path they’re on has been pre-written for them, no objective other than trying to glean some meaning from “half-remembered directions that [they] can hardly separate from instinct,” and all the while they have no control over who comes and goes from the stage or for how long. Perhaps by stripping away the accepted rules of consciousness, anti-plays and postmodernists do not seek to make us uncomfortable and removed from reality, but to make us more aware that there is no palpable reality from which we can be removed, that we are actors on our own empty stages following parenthetical stage directions; the only rule we know is that the show must go on, until it doesn’t.
Duignan, Brian. “Postmodernism Philosophy.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1077292/postmodernism>.
Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. New York: Grove, 1967. Print.
What’s Your Line, Old Sport?
by Rebekah Lee
When I was young, there was one thing I didn’t like in school and that was reading. I hated reading history, science, poems; you name it, I hated it. I would have rather doused myself in molasses, rolled myself in feathers, and run naked through a crowd of people than read a literary piece. I was terrified of books without pictures and I refused to read anything other than them because I was afraid I did not have the intelligence needed to enjoy them. This held me back from so many opportunities to grow. However, later in life, something changed my opinion. My story begins when I was assigned to read a classic: The Great Gatsby.
If you’re one of those people who thinks that The Great Gatsby is only a movie, I advise you to stand up slowly, duck your head, and run in a zig-zag-like fashion away from me. Until the movie adaption release in 2013, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece was regarded to the general, non-reading public as nothing more than a high school reading requirement followed by a book report or a title you put on your “have-read” list to seem cultured. I too fell into this category when I was assigned to read it for a book report freshman year of high school. Little did I know that The Great Gatsby would become my favorite piece of literature from the 1900’s.
While I would love to discuss every detail of why I love the book, I am only going to discuss the one thing that stuck with me from the book: the last and most memorable line.
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” has not only changed the way I have looked at diction, syntax, and the voice of a piece, but it also changed the way I felt about literature as a whole. This particular line has a feel that suggests, “There needs to be film score based solely off of the organization of these words”. However, when I first read this line, I didn’t feel this way. I had to re-read the line several times; I wasn’t sure what it meant exactly. What I did mean was that my assigned reading was over and I could finally move on with my life (other than the fact that ‘old sport’ would cross my mind twenty times a day). I was not invested with the characters or the story on my first read, in fact I could care less. I mainly wanted to get it over with and write the stupid book report.
The second time, however, I noticed things about not only this last line that I hadn’t paid attention to before. I loved the flow of the sentence; how every defining noun or verb starts with the letter b to give an impact whether you read it aloud or silently. The words Fitzgerald chose inspired a sense of curiosity to bubble up inside of me. I asked myself questions like, “Borne, where did he get that from?” and “What does ceaselessly even mean?”. I found myself analyzing every detail of every sentence. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Never before in my life had I been so fascinated by words and the rhythm that they can provide. I thought I might have just had a little too much caffeine in my system, but alas, that was not the case. The last line of The Great Gatsby opened my eyes to the fact that I, Rebekah Lee, had a passion for literature.
“So we beat on…” simply means what it implies: to hammer or to pound. The fact that Fitzgerald uses the word “beat” implies that there was abrasive persistence. Gatsby continued to beat against what was impossible. Even after Daisy reappeared into his life, he hammered her into claiming she never loved Tom. He beat on, a “boat against the current”, against what was meant to be. Fitzgerald not only used the boating metaphor to create a picture, but he used it in reference to Gatsby; how throughout his entire life, he was the boat against the current. He always faced something or someone that was against him; poverty, rejection, Tom, and even Nick Carraway when he warned Jay Gatsby “You cannot repeat the past”. Gatsby was “borne back ceaselessly into his past”; he was reluctant to let go of his past, to move forward because he was always brought back to it, to Daisy, without ceasing.
My favorite part about that line is the fact that it brings the entire book to a close by bringing in the moral of the story; you cannot change your past, nor can you recreate it, and in Gatsby’s case, it will always tie you down no matter how hard you try to move on. Jay Gatsby is an interesting character of whom I still don’t fully understand. Gatsby’s entire goal throughout the book was to win Daisy, a past lover, back into his life. He cheated, bootlegged, lied, and manipulated to get to the top. He threw extravagant parties in order to lure Daisy’s attention and ultimately bring her back to him.
After I discovered that I was passionate about literature, I expanded my reading palate and read everything from fantasies to biographies. I wanted to fully indulge myself in the work of authors and it didn’t matter who the authors were either. I would go from Hemingway to Hawthorne (I don’t recommend Hawthorne, but that’s another subject for another paper). I paid close attention to characters, scenes, dialogue between characters, and even sentence structure and word choice. And whenever I fell into a horribly depressing reading rut, I always came back to Gatsby. In fact, I have had the story of Jay Gatsby dance in my mind more than six times. Every time I read the book, I had a new favorite character and I always placed myself in their shoes. The book continues to be there for me whether I am filled with joy or remorse.
Generally, people associate reading anything other than a “trendy” book with extreme intelligence. I have had countless conversations with people telling me that they did not read Les Misérables because they “weren’t smart enough” or they “couldn’t read a book over 250 pages” or stated that they didn’t read Gone with the Wind because they “didn’t have the time”. These are the lies that I told myself when I was younger. Because I was afraid of not being smart enough, I inadvertently caused myself to miss out on the knowledge I could have gained by reading. To me, reading is my therapy. It’s always there for me, no matter my mood. Books are my escape from the struggles and hardships of everyday life. It’s not about being intelligent or knowing the meanings to every word used in the book. It’s about growing, learning, and experiencing.
I am a strong believer that every literary piece ever written will not impress every individual who happens to stumble upon it. One might read a piece of work and feel it is the best thing they have ever read. Another might read the same work look away in disgust, light it on fire then dance upon its ashes. I’m also a strong believer that there is a piece of literature out there that seems to be written just to speak to an individual at that perfect time; just like the last line of The Great Gatsby is to me. For some, like me, that may mean they have to read through their Scarlet Letter to find their Great Gatsby. However, for the few lucky ones, they got their favorite the first time (I’m secretly extremely jealous of those people).
Therefore, I encourage you to find your line, your book, or your author. If you have already tried and believe you are hopeless, that you simply cannot find a book or any other form of literary work interesting or enjoyable, I want to encourage you to continue looking. You may not find it in a classic like Sense and Sensibility or How to Kill a Mockingbird, but maybe in a quote you find on Pinterest or maybe even in a popular book like The Hunger Games or Looking for Alaska. However you find it, when you do find it, read the book and then re-read the book. Ponder about the characters. Learn about the author. Break down your favorite chapter. And whatever you do to keep that spark of inspiration and interest alive, never stop, old sport.
Is Character an Inherent Part of Us?
by Alexis Vitovic
We have all seen a movie at some point and questioned the actions of the protagonists and their judgment. We have this thought flicker across our brain about how we think we could have done better in whatever the situation was. We’ve all at some point questioned how we would act when put in certain situations, and usually assumed the best. So, how do we know for sure? Can we even truly predict how we would act in certain situations? We all picture a type of character we would like to be associated with, but subconsciously, does the character in our nature come out? Our character is always being challenged by all types of situations, but it’s the way we react to these unpredictable circumstances that reveals the character we actually possess.
Most people would like to say they could be calm, cool, and collected in a stressful situation. But then where is the certainty? When put in these situations where you get to actually see your own true nature, is your reaction the same as you would have expected? When I interviewed the professor of Ceramics at LaGrange College, Tim Taunton, he shared a story. He and a friend had been hanging out, and they saw a guy they went to school with. They recognized that something was off and asked him to hang out, sort of feeling bad for him and wanting to make sure he was okay. He didn’t just seem depressed, he admitted he was. Later on, that same kid tried to commit suicide in the home where Taunton, his friend, and also the kid’s sister were all hanging out. When the guy went to another room, they all seemed to have the same realization. His sister told them he was headed to the room where his dad’s gun was. Taunton rushed back to the room, and in that moment the guy had been pulling out a gun from a drawer. Taunton ended up wrestling the gun away from him, saving his friend’s life. He had risen to the occasion and had stayed as calm as one could in that situation. That gives us all hope for the character we have inside, but even Taunton says he doesn’t know if he would be able to act the same if the situation presented itself again. It was instinct that drove him to wrestling that gun away from that kid; but do we all have that instinct? If we are unable to control what our true character at heart is, that would mean “character is fate,” as the philosopher Heraclitus said. However, just because you’ve acted a certain way once doesn’t mean that your fate is thereby determined.
To believe “character is fate,” you would believe character is a subconscious act, unable to fully be controlled. Taunton said, “Character is environmental and genetic.” This offers that it is one’s surroundings and inherent nature that is the make-up of his character. This would mean he had no true control over what character he had developed during his upbringing. But to relate it to genetics, many do react oftentimes in the way their parents do. In fact, it’s a cultural phenomenon to try and break from that to be your own person. However, the mannerisms and way of reacting when fully challenged is something we are unable to control or break from. Taunton even said, “You can’t help the way you were raised because that’s what you know.” You can move to another environment and learn new ways, but you can’t escape your roots.
To elaborate on this idea that you really cannot help who you turn out to be, Taunton also compared his theory to a book he has been reading. The book is titled Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History. Taunton talked about how to Native Americans, it was acceptable to kill people and do awful things for the good of the tribe. It was okay to them because that’s how they were raised and how it had always been. To their own people, the Comanches were loving and caring, but they were violent outside of it. If this is all they had ever known and they were raised to be this way, Taunton asks, “Does this mean they have bad character?” When put that way, I think most would agree that no, they don’t have bad character based on something they can’t help. Put into perspective, this means as a culture, we would agree that character is fate all based on the way we were taught as we grew up. Ethics are developed from us to what we should be over the years. This concept is a product of our environment. Even what we see developed as black or white, wrong or right, is developed not just from our own upbringing, but society’s.
Some people are more aware of their way of reacting. Taunton even said he doesn’t think he would be the one to just freak out in a stressful situation. If you are aware of your true nature, you’re more easily able to predict your reaction. In most cases, do people say they’re sure they will act one way and believe they would react the same way they hoped, then act differently? Taunton put a lot of thought into this question. He said, “Nobody really knows how they would react. I don’t even know if I would act the same again.” He added later that you have to be taught to be able to handle certain situations. He said, “It’s a mixture: part learned, part instinct”. So, to go against your inevitable nature, you have to be taught. However, even then, if truly challenged, there is no certainty on whether the learned nature or the inherent one will come out.
Despite whatever situation we are in, the way we react in spontaneously stressful situations proves the true character we possess. In most cases, no, we don’t really know how we would act. We all have a way in our minds that we think is the way we would act or how we would like to act. However, when faced with something extreme like life and death, we don’t know if we would run or fight. Even if you have already experienced something once, there is no guarantee that you would be able to do that again. Character is one of the only things that cannot be altered to fit exactly the way we want it to. Despite the character we would like to have, we never truly know what character is our fate until we have been truly challenged.
The Ongoing Struggle against the Ebola Virus
by Amy Webb
Recently, the Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, more commonly known as Ebola, has made a tragically negative impact on several countries in West Africa and has attracted the attention of news reporters all over the world. These sources have pointed out the devastation that this disease has already caused in the locations where it is prevalent. In order to bring an end to the terrible effects of the Ebola virus, other countries must join with West Africa to treat the disease and contain it before it becomes even more widespread.
Two of the most important aspects to consider about the Ebola epidemic are its current location and the factors that increase its spreading. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Senegal have reported a total of 6,574 cases. In Nigeria and Senegal, the disease spread through a single infected person traveling to their country (“2014 Ebola Outbreaks in West Africa”). Though these countries contained the disease before it got out of hand, the ease with which the Ebola virus can make its way to another location is alarming. These occurrences show how crucial it is that the disease be treated with care and that all potentially infected people stay away from Ebola-free areas.
The CDC also reports that, of the 6,574 known cases, 3,091 people have died from Ebola. This unfortunate statistic shows that only about half of people who are affected have received sufficient treatment in a timely manner. However, just being aware of these numbers is not enough. In order to fully understand Ebola, one must look at the way the disease affects the victim. The New York Times online article “What You Need to Know About the Ebola Outbreak” explains the process of the disease. First, the infected people will have a fever and body aches and will vomit constantly. After this, approximately fifty percent of patients start to hemorrhage until their blood pressure drops and their organs can no longer function properly, leading to their deaths (Burgess et al). This experience would be gruesome and painful, which is why the disease must be contained as soon as possible.
As discussed in the New York Times article, there are only experimental vaccines for the Ebola virus at the moment, with the United States assisting in the search by developing medicine that has been tested on monkeys. Since no widely available cure exists, doctors are limited to treating symptoms of the virus and preventing the development of other illnesses (Burgess et al). Hopefully, doctors will find a more effective method that can be administered to many infected people in the near future.
In an article for Time magazine’s Website, Jack C. Chow, a former assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, claims that “a new health defense strategy is needed that brings immediate, concerted interventions across whole regions,” beyond the emergency help provided by the United States. Chow makes a valid point. Though the efforts currently provided make beneficial changes, they are clearly not enough when one takes the statistics into consideration. In order to put a stop to the spread of Ebola, a multitude of more developed nations will have to work together to provide the West African countries with the supplies and care they need.
Though an Ebola epidemic will probably never spread to the United States, it is still an issue of which we should be aware and proactive. Helping nations with fewer resources and an intense need is the responsibility of strong, capable countries like the United States. Hopefully, these nations will offer the necessary assistance, and the countries in need will accept it. Containing the Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever is imperative to the health of West Africa and the rest of the world, so that this epidemic does not become even more detrimental and tragic.
Burgess, Joe, Denise Grady, Josh Keller, Patrick J. Lyons, Heather Murphy, and Sergio Pecanha. “What You Need to Know About the Ebola Outbreak.” New York Times. NYTimes.com,
22 Sep. 2014. Web. 29 Sep. 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 29 Sep. 2014. Web. 29 Sep. 2014.
Chow, Jack C. “We Need a Global Health Emergency Corps to Fight Ebola.” Time. Time.com, 25 Sep. 2014. Web. 29 Sep. 2014.
Taking off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes
by Ashlyn Baker
Growing up in the 1800s, Emily Dickinson was surrounded by death, pain, and misery. But, unlike most people, she developed a strange fascination with the thought of dying and what exactly happens when one dies. Several of her poems (e.g.,”Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” “My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close,” and “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died”) include death and the afterlife as main themes. In these poems, her narrators never exhibit many of the typical human anxieties regarding death.
In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Dickinson personifies death as a gentleman who drives her along in a carriage. The fact that this poem humanizes death keys in on Dickinson’s personality. She was not afraid of death, but merely intrigued by it, as she mentions that “the carriage held but just ourselves/And immortality,” suggesting that there is nothing extraordinary about the carriage’s passengers (l. 3-4). An interesting image in this poem can be found in the line “We passed the setting sun” (l. 12), the sun being a metaphor for the beautiful aspects of a life’s ending. Also, “A swelling of the ground” (18) likely means a freshly dug grave. The reference to a grave in the poem adds to the dark mood. However, Dickinson suggests that the mood she establishes is not necessarily as bad as one may think. This poem, along with many of her others, comes across as soothing and relaxing, rather than sad or depressing, in spite of the grim theme.
“My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close” presents readers with more of a “What happens after death?” than “How does the process of dying look and feel?” theme. The first line says a great deal about what Dickinson went through in life. She feels as if she has died more than once (twice, in fact) even though she has not died at all. One would presume that something traumatic would have had to have happened to make her feel this way, but no horrifying events are revealed in the poem. The last lines, however, strike a note like no other: “Parting is all we know of heaven/And all we need of hell” (l. 7-8). “All we know of heaven,” posits the notion that the afterlife is a mysterious place, and the only way to find out what actually happens is to die. “All we need of hell,” signifies the pain felt by those who outlive someone close to them who has died. Truthfully, losing someone close (especially for Dickinson, who rarely left the house enough to make any friends) can be a heartbreaking ordeal, making the reader wonder if she lost a lover or immediate family member. Because the narrator has already died twice, it makes death seem like less of an ordeal to her, as if she’s grown accustomed.
Finally, another of Dickinson’s many views of death is evident in “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died.” What makes this poem so peculiar is that, while Dickinson is describing another one of her imaginings of death, she stops to draw the reader’s attention to something so small as a fly. She begins with the lines “The stillness in the room/Was like the stillness in the air/Between the heaves of storm” (l. 2-4). Naturally, these lines suggest a tranquil, empty feeling, as is common in Dickinson’s death poems. Then, toward the end, “There interposed a fly/With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz” (l. 11-13). There are many possible explanations as to why the narrator’s focus is drawn to a fly. It is directed to the fly because, in this and many other Dickinson poems, death is a magical and painless thing, rather than something terrible. The cause of the narrator’s death is not revealed, though it likely is not pain free, considering the narrator’s searching for a distraction. In order for the narrator to die peacefully, she draws her attention to something small, and then she “could not see to see” (l. 16).
Dickinson’s narrators have all faced similar circumstances, yet they seem to have faced them at different times. In “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” the narrator has died long ago. In “My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close,” Dickinson’s narrator has not yet died. Finally, in “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died,” the narrator has died very recently. So, these differing narrative points of view contribute heavily to the variations in Dickinson’s presentations of death.
The oddest part about Dickinson’s view of death is that she never seems to get upset about it. Her tone is always soft and elegant, as is the voice of anyone when reading her poetry. When Emily Dickinson did actually die in May of 1886, she was definitely at peace, and finally ready to leave this world behind and move on, perhaps, to a place better than, worse than, or even indifferent to ours. Her outlook at the moment may have been anything, however, given the variation in views on death found in her poetry.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could Not Stop for Death.”Because I Could Not Stop for Death.
Brooklyn.cuny.edu, Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/stop.html>.
Dickinson, Emily. “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died.” I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died. N.p., 2009.
Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/cs6/fly.html>.
Dickinson, Emily. “My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close.” My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close.
N.p., 2009. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.
“Emily Dickinson’s Biography | Emily Dickinson Museum.”Emily Dickinson’s Biography |
Emily Dickinson Museum.N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2014.
Are Video Games Art?
by Tylor Hepner
There is great controversy and debate in determining whether or not video games can be considered a medium of art. First in this debate, the definition of “art” must be ascertained. Second, it must be decided which components in video games might qualify as art. A person’s credibility in saying that his interpretation is correct must also be questioned. When this topic is addressed in a debate, all the points that can be used to defend or attack video games’ case are based on the individual’s perception of art. Because of this, it always becomes a matter of subjectivity, similar to the matter of an individual’s taste or preference. An individual could claim that something is art, and it could qualify as art based on that person’s perception, given a person’s opinion cannot be changed. Debates revolve around this circular thinking; everyone argues for his or her definition of art and how this definition relates to video games.
The “matter of taste” concept is defined by which pieces of art the individual deems superior to others. In other words, people may ask what is good art, and what is bad art, according to the specific standards. It may also be asked which video games are better than others in their artistic merit. Everything is capable of greatness, and art is not limited to a specific medium. It is only limited by the artists’ interpretations or imagination. Dictionary.com offers a conventional definition of art, calling it “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” A game that exemplifies this definition is Shadow of the Colossus, which is critically acclaimed for its high degree of artistic merit, and its engagement of the emotions in a way that is rarely seen (“The Great Debate: Are Games Art?”). When judged by similar standards, other games (such as Pac-Man) simply don’t compare. Colossus has a higher status of artistic achievement, and, therefore, could be called the better game. Not all video games are created equal, and as with any other medium, the quality varies. There will always be specific aspects of a game that are higher in quality than others. But these arguments are based on the assumption that video games are considered art. There also can be “good” paintings and “bad” paintings, but the genre is not questioned as an artistic form, whereas video games are constantly cross-examined and challenged.
Some critics believe it is not even a question of “good art” or “bad art.” They plainly state that video games are not art and can never be. Roger Ebert is a famous proponent of this suggestion and one of the first critics of high credibility and status to approach the subject. He has stated, “No one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great poets, filmmakers, novelists and poets.” He believes that games do not even compare to the “greats,” so could never end up being great. He thinks of art as usually the creation of one artist, and also points out that “the obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome.” People argue that there are games without points or rules, but Ebert counters, “…it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those things you cannot win; you can only experience them.”
Ebert also references some major viewpoints, one which relates to the commercial benefit of video game developers. Kellee Santiago, a designer and producer of video games whom Ebert references, claims that “games that invoke higher levels of joy, or of ecstasy,” are being rewarded by audiences with high sales figures. He argues, “The only way I could experience joy or ecstasy from her games would be through profit participation.” This has led to the idea that video games produce content solely based on consumer demand and profit. The people who argue this point say that the only intent of a video game is moneymaking, so the content cannot be art, for its intent is not poetic in the sense that it is meant to evoke an emotional response. Based on that viewpoint, these video games are made only for the sales, and, because this is the game’s sole purpose, its content is carelessly bland.
Ebert finally begs the question, “Why care, anyway?” He relates games to sports, in that Michael Jordan never said that his games were an art form. Jordan was content to enjoy playing his game. Indeed, contentment with just playing is what is marketed to gamers, and yet the want to see more in their games. Ebert questions, “Why aren’t gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?” He believes it is because gamers require a sense of validation. In saying it is considered as elite as an art form defends the gamers and validates their hobby.
On the opposite side of spectrum, one could ask why video games cannot be understood as an art form. It could be questioned why video games are attacked; those against the idea of “games as art” understand that painting is art, or sculpting is art, but they need to expand their view of the fundamental definition that is based on old principles. Obsolete definitions and standard concepts need to be cast aside, and we must broaden our understanding within this contemporary age just as the world’s technology and knowledge continue to flourish.
Artists are making good use of new tools to create and develop technology and bring creativity and imagination to soaring heights. We should not neglect and confine a whole new way of creating and think only about the world based on old concepts. Games are something new and different; they are just as capable of exploring the human condition and of making inspiring statements as any other medium. It is impossible to deny the high degrees of artistic expression that goes into them. Games demand a group of artists coming together a common purpose of conveying a message within the game, which they can accomplish in more ways than are possible in a still painting, storyboard, or movie. It’s a painting in motion. Like a film, it’s a visual book, but is also more than that. Game authors have a say in how a plotline plays out. This adds a level of emotion that can only be obtained through engagement and interaction. Games expand the ways that people know art, for they are the collaborations of undeniable artists and provide interaction that delves deeper into the substance of the story of a game, and a game’s high degree of artistic merit should be understood so the reality of its achievement as an art form can be fully realized and appreciated.
A painter is generally understood as an artist, and so is a sculptor, a musician, and an actor. If video games are not considered art, then that means that their designers, though they collaborate to create something together, cannot be considered artists. This cannot be so, as artistry is seen everywhere in life: there is a painting or drawing within every sky, sculpting in every object, writing that must tell more than one story, acting and performance with every motion, and music which amplifies to create great impact at just the right moments. Just like paintings, movies, storyboards, and books, video games are an expressive medium. The software is the tool to create, like a brush or pencil; a canvas filled with brushstrokes of oil paint is akin to a screen embodied with code. Art is said to transport people into another word, which is what video games do best.
Heavy Rain is one game in particular exemplifies just how much more emotionally involved one can be with a interactive video game than a movie. It also stretches the single predetermined experience into multiple experiences that could be based on one’s actions. Heavy Rain is game in the vein of a movie, in which the player has a choice as to how the game’s plot plays out, and each choice is a consequence which determines which ending will occur. It also shows how much more of an emotional tug a video game can achieve. For example, within the game, the player is a parent taking his child to the grocery store. The child has a bright red balloon, and while shopping in a dense crowd, the player loses track of him. Frantically, the player begins searching the tops of countless heads until the balloon is finally seen floating out of sight. Instead of watching the events of a parent losing his child and fighting his way to reach them, the player, vicariously, is the one who must get to him, and the emotional connection builds. The player “feels” the urgency more, for he is in the role of a parent who must reach his lost child. That extra emotional tug achieves more than what a film can do, for the user is engaged to see and feel the message of the artists. Increased time with a game like Heavy Rain increases an understanding of all of its specific intricacies, similar to taking time in designing and deliberating a painting, or a musical composition.
People who argue the point that games are not art, therefore, don’t understand the significance of the emotional aspects within a game. Of course, games vary in degrees of significance, but if someone has never been absorbed into a video game or even ever played one, it is harder for him to understand the reality of the achievements. Ignorance creates an obstacle to appreciation. Some cannot enjoy the game for what it was meant to be because of all the requirements. A person requires all of the objects and technology needed for gameplay: the television, the game system, the controller, and the game itself. Along with the tools, one also needs a general knowledge of how to operate the systems, as well as an idea of the game’s mechanics. There are more barriers to video games when compared to “sophisticated” art. There is only one requirement to appreciate traditional art, and that is sight. Everyone can look upon artwork, but it is harder for people to engage in a game in order to receive its message. If one takes the time, however, it will be worth that extra effort to immerse and engage.
Whenever people are given the creative freedom to express themselves, art is created. The technology behind video games is becoming greater and achieving more each year. Realism is going beyond the imagination, and is stretching the limits that people might be having a hard time accepting. Steps are being made towards accepting video games into the category of traditional art. Museums are starting to display video game exhibits, in hopes of demonstrating that these works are just as valuable as any other medium of art. Activists in this cause are trying to prove that video games are just as sophisticated as any art piece, regardless of critical reception, and seek public acknowledgment and appreciation of their ability to function as art. For example, the “Art of Video Games” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum displays the emotional responses of people as they play a game (Tucker). These advances in the acceptance of video games are currently and actively taking place, demonstrating that people see this medium as growing and evolving.
The spectrum of degrees in artistic merit and the grand scale of art-related opinions that people have raises a fundamental point: What makes art great? It all goes back to the purpose or intent of the artwork. It is successful when the realization of a specific vision is completely captured. When the intent is fulfilled, there is success. There does not have to be comparison with other games or other works of art. If simplicity is the intention, and it is captured, it is successful. If the goal was to create the most realistic game and that realization encompasses the vision, it is considered great. Every artist has his own goal to realize a vision, and every person is unique. The methods will vary, and video games are a new medium for the artist to explore. The medium can allow for the realization of ideas in greater depths of the imaginations, and whatever the purpose is or how it’s conveyed, it is successful if realized.
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